It's hard to feel too sorry for John Edwards, once a golden boy in Democratic politics and now scorned for the way he betrayed his wife and made her last years harder than they should have been. Elizabeth Edwards succumbed to her cancer last year, and in the months since, Edwards has kept a very low profile, moving back into the family home in Chapel Hill, N.C., that he had left when he and Elizabeth separated. But according to an exhaustively reported story in The New York Times
, Edwards' self-inflicted solitude could soon come to an end.
A federal grand jury that has been meeting for almost two years in Raleigh, N.C., is expected to conclude soon. It has been investigating the fundraising practices associated with Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign, and whether any of that money was used either to support Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, or cover up their affair. Prosecutors have combed through bank records from multiple accounts and interviewed dozens of campaign aides along with wealthy donors to Edwards, including 100-year-old Bunny Mellon, who underwrote Edwards to the tune of some $6 million.
If it's proven that money donated to the campaign went to Hunter's upkeep and to assure her silence, that evidence would be half the puzzle. The more relevant challenge for prosecutors is to determine whether Edwards knew the money was being used for that purpose and went along with it in order to preserve his political future. The level of incrimination could mean the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.
There is also the possibility that the prosecutorial team could decide not to press any charges. The maze of finances in any campaign is hard to separate and pin on any one individual, and Edwards presumably took some pains to distance himself from potential wrongdoing. But he was living a double life, and mistakes could have been made. He posed as a married man with a wife America had fallen in love with while he was also the father of a child born out of wedlock, which he denied for way too long.
Stories pop up every so often predicting the grand jury will soon report, which must have Edwards living on tender hooks. He has also been forced to testify in a civil suit brought by Hunter against Andrew Young, the former Edwards aide who posed for a time as the father of her child, and then wrote a tell-all book about the whole experience. Hunter is suing to recover a video of her and Edwards having sex that she claims Young took from her when she was staying with him and his wife, and then used it to secure his book deal. The trial in that case is set for October.
A photo of Edwards standing alone in his beach house in North Carolina, taken through the window perhaps without Edwards' knowledge, evokes the portrait of a man in retreat. The reservoir of sympathy for Edwards has run dry, and as he faces these dual legal challenges, he has little left to preserve other than his reputation as a top-flight lawyer.